California is the third largest state by square mileage in the United States. With over 1000 miles from the northern border to the southern border, the climate and ecosystem vary widely across the state. So much climate variation leads to an abundance of diversity in the plant life.
Trees along the coastline grow to gigantic sizes. The humidity and climate along the coast create a unique environment that allows trees to grow well over 250 feet. Furthermore, the trunks can grow with widths of 20 feet. The climate in California is so special that it is home to many of the world’s tallest trees. As you travel inland, the forests change appearance greatly.
Unlike the states east of the Rockies, California’s topography ranges widely. Not only will you find mountain ranges and valleys, but flatlands and deserts as well.
There are many species that can sustain the extreme climate differences across the state. For the sake of this article, we will look at species population across the entire state. Approximately one-third of the state is protected forests. This protection led to trees that are hundreds and thousands of years old.
With such large trees, the state and national forests pull in thousands of tourists yearly. The stately giants along the coast are something to wonder at. However, the towering giants are not the most populous trees in California. Without a doubt, you will see trees on this list with a less stately appearance.
Top 5 Trees in California
- Valley Oak
- California Sycamore
- Catalina Cherry Tree
- California Black Walnut
The Pacific Northwest is its own unique ecosystem. To learn more about the trees growing abundantly in the Pacific Northwest, Read More.
1. Valley Oak
The Valley Oak thrives in the hot climates of California. When planted in this area, this tree will grow up to four feet per year. Despite the accelerated growth rate, the Valley Oak lives up to 600 years.
The Valley Oak is endemic to California. Therefore, you will not find it anywhere else in the world. The territory of the Valley Oak is California Central Valley. Some of the smaller valleys in California also play home to the Valley Oak. Finally, some islands and mountain ranges support the Valley Oak.
It is a deciduous tree with a significant year-round demand for water. California is the perfect ecosystem for it. An important characteristic for California, the Valley Oak is relatively wildfire tolerant. It is difficult to burn as it stands. You will find it growing most abundantly at elevations above 2000 ft.
This tree grows up to 100 feet in height with a thick, sturdy trunk. Moreover, the trunk so covered with deeply fissured bark. The bark is so fissured that it almost looks like scales. The uniquely lobed leaves and deep bark make it easy to identify this tree in California.
Many animals depend on the Valley Oak for shelter and sustenance. Smaller animals enjoy the acorns, but the acorns are prone to beetle infestation. However, the healthy acorns are sweet and edible. Native Americans roast the acorns for consumption and to mash to make bread.
The wood is not suitable for construction because of cracking and warping. Furthermore, the population of Valley Oaks has been dwindling in recent years because of human expansion.
2. California Sycamore
The California Sycamore grows at a fast rate like the Valley Oak. Additionally, it is of a similar size at maturity. The tallest California Sycamores grow to 100 feet in height with 70-foot spreads.
The California Sycamore often grows with multiple trunks. However, the oldest and largest trees grow on a single trunk. No matter how many trunks the California Sycamore has, the bark is gray and deeply furrowed at the base of the trunk. As you look up the trunk, the bark becomes smooth and flaky.
The leaves of the California Sycamore are dark green and thick with multiple lobes. Initially, the California Sycamore grows in a pyramidal shape, but as it matures, the spread changes to an oval or rounded shape.
Overall, the California Sycamore is tolerant of many climates and soil types. It sustains drought once established but prefers moist soils. Planting your California Sycamore in dry soil will greatly reduce its lifespan. Additionally, you will be wary to plant it close to a house, building, or other plant life. The root system spreads at least 12 feet from the trunk base and will overtake anything it finds.
You will find the California Sycamore growing from central California down to the southern border. The territory also expands into Mexico a bit.
All in all, the wood is difficult to work with because of the tough grain. It does not split or work well.
The Jacaranda is a beautiful tree with beautiful lavender flowers and a lovely fragrance. Overall, the Jacaranda is drought tolerant and thrives in the warm weather of Southern California, Central America, and South America.
The Jacaranda can grow to 100 feet in height while the spread is closer to 30 feet. Altogether, the purple flower in late spring is the most identifying factor. They see some success in areas with rare frost and freeze. However, the trees planted in these areas will not bloom and thrive as well as those in tropical areas.
In late spring, the Jacaranda produces a full canopy of lavender flowers. The color is absolutely striking to behold. It adds a unique hue to a green landscape. Additionally, the flowers carry a wonderful fragrance. The beauty of this tree has led to its popularity. Of course, it is incredibly popular in Southern California, but it is transplanted all over the world.
4. Catalina Cherry Tree
The Catalina Cherry grows quickly just like the other trees on this list. However, it is on the smaller side and only reaches 40 feet in height. In spring, the tree boasts its own set of beautiful white flowers. By harvest, the tree is covered in cherries. These cherries are edible by both animals and humans. Although, they are not sweet and are best left for wildlife.
The flowers produce a pleasant fragrance. Overall, the Catalina Cherry is drought tolerant. It adapts to most soil types well. Altogether, botanists consider the Catalina Cherry to be an evergreen.
The Catalina Cherry grows in Southern and Central California. All in all, the territory tightly hugs the coastline and does not drift inland. It is relatively cold tolerant and will survive a frost or freeze without issue.
Despite the name, the Catalina Cherry is not a true Cherry species. On the other hand, the white flowers in spring may lead you to believe it is part of the Rose family. In the end, it is more closely related to Holly trees.
5. California Black Walnut
The California Black Walnut is the last tree on our list. It is a medium-sized tree, reaching heights of 75 feet. Additionally, it grows on a single and sturdy trunk. Black walnut lumber is highly sought after because of the beautiful grain and strength.
The California Black Walnut grows along the coast from San Diego to San Francisco. At times, the territory reaches up to the northern parts of California. Continued human expansion resulted in population loss of the California Black Walnut in much of the southern portion of the state.
Altogether, the bark is thick and furrowed. It produces a hard walnut that is edible by humans and animals. Many native groups consumed the walnut without issue. However, the nut is difficult to remove from the shell and not produced commercially.
Though wildlife love to consume the walnuts, the walnuts are full of toxins to other plants. When the walnuts fall from the tree in autumn, they poison the undergrowth below.
Overall, it is less tolerant of cold and drought compared to the other trees on this list.
There is a variant of this tree known as the Northern Black Walnut. It grows in a smaller area around Fresno and is shorter. All in all, the two variants do not differ in characteristics other than size and territory.